It was rock and roll full throttle; it was Ritchie Blackmore without a leash. The show was bigger than life and crazier than hell, the elements that have been a part of every memorable concert from the Stones to Zeppelin. Purple was the greatest band in the world that evening, tearing up the night with a set list made up of songs from the just-released Burn album. It would be impossible to capture that kind of drama every night, however, and less than a year after that performance, Blackmore would call it quits to form Rainbow.
But there was nothing but a buzz of energy when I was finally ushered to the backstage area of the concert hall. The unique choreography of a rock and roll show was taking place. Amplifiers were given final tweaks and guitars underwent last-minute tune-ups. David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, the newest members of Purple Mark III, were strolling about. Out front, you could hear the St. Paul auditorium filling up, the crowd happy to be out of the 47-degree cold and growing ever louder in anticipation.
Amidst all of the commotion, Ritchie was standing with one leg propped up on a small practice amp. He was running through what must have been his pre-show routine, oblivious to the commotion around him. When one of the crew asked him something, he continued playing for another few seconds and then raised his head. Without uttering a word, he simply stared at the source of the question and shot him a look that withered. He then lowered his head and continued practicing.
At that moment, I was brought over and introduced to him. Several minutes passed while he continued with his finger exercises, and I actually think he had forgotten I was there. I broke the silence by telling him Creem magazine had flown me out and he muttered something that sounded like an insult. We began. He slipped in and out of this strange English double-talk, but for the most part he remained relatively polite.
Still, he seemed pissed off. It ran as an undercurrent during our conversation and was there later during his performance. I watched the show and realized that he rarely interacted with the band and never acknowledged there was an audience out there. They performed new material from the Stormbringer album. Coverdale and Hughes brought a real R&B feel to the music and Ritchie had stated time and time again that he hated funk.
Is that why he was so angry? This is what he told me:
“I’ve got to a stage where I’m thinking, ‘I still haven’t proved myself yet. I still want to be more and more and more. I’m quiet, maybe moody. I have a very dry sense of humor. I’m into practical jokes.”
Fast forward: One year later, I was sitting in the Rainbow Bar and Grill when I was hit on the side of the head with a stale roll. I turned around and I saw Ritchie Blackmore. I smiled and he flashed a “Who, me?” grin. Thirty seconds later, I’m beaned again. This time I don’t even look up.